May 19, 2015 Healthy Living

A Beginner’s Guide to Hiking

Hiking presents the perfect opportunity to get some exercise, commune with nature, and even enjoy the company of some good friends, be they human or canine. If the mere suggestion of “taking a hike” automatically conjures up thoughts of climbing one of the 46 high peaks in the Adirondacks, you can take comfort in the fact that there are plenty of less daunting options in this fine state of ours. We’ll address them a little later in this post. First, though, let’s cover the basics.

What to Wear

It may sound obvious, but wearing the right clothes is crucial. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people sporting jeans while hiking in the Adirondacks, in the summer no less. Yes, denim is durable, but it’s also made from cotton, which retains moisture instead of wicking it away from your skin. Your best bet is to stick to lightweight wool and other sweat-wicking materials that you can find at all sporting goods and outdoor specialty stores.

As for footwear, it comes down to personal preference. Some people like hiking boots for the greater stability they provide. I tend to favor trail shoes because they’re lightweight and more comfortable. Either way, make sure that your shoes fit well (i.e., your toes should not hit the front of your shoes; consider going up a half or full size) and that you break in your shoes before hitting the trail to prevent blisters and hotspots. Remember that your feet will most likely swell a half size or more by the afternoon. Going back to the no cotton rule, this especially applies to your socks. Only wear synthetic materials.

What to Take on a Hike

Whether you’re heading out for a one- or 10-mile hike, you’ll want to carry some essentials with you.

  • Water: Take as much as you can comfortably carry. You’ll thank yourself, especially on a hot day.
  • Something to nibble on: Granola bars, nuts, dried fruit, and trail mix are energizing and lightweight.
  • Sun protection: This includes a wide-brimmed hat, sunscreen, and sunglasses.
  • Firstaid kit: While you might not need this on a casual stroll, you should at least tote along adhesive bandages, alcohol wipes, antibiotic ointment, and ibuprofen for a lengthier day hike.
  • Insect repellent: This needs no explanation.
  • Bag for collecting trash: Carry out what you carry in.
  • Compass and map: If you veer off the trail, these might come in handy. Just make sure you know how to use them.
  • Duct tape: My husband and every avid hiker I know swear by this. You can use it as a bandage, to repair holes in shoes, seal cracks in water bottles, and probably much more.

Hiking Safety Tips

The following are common sense and potentially life-saving guidelines that shouldn’t be taken lightly, regardless of the length of your hike.

  • Always tell someone where you’re going and when you expect to return. If worse comes to worst, rescuers will know where to look for you.
  • Keep an eye on the weather. If the forecast is calling for thunder and lightning, consider postponing your hike. Even if the skies are clear, bring clothing that will keep you warm and dry if you get caught in a stray shower or if the temperature dips.
  • Take a flashlight even if you don’t plan on being out after dark. They’re lightweight, don’t take up much space, and can be useful if your hike takes longer than expected.
  • Start early. Again, this applies to longer day hikes. The last thing you want is to get stuck on an unfamiliar trail after the sun sets. Luckily, though, you packed a flashlight for such an occasion.
  • Avoid poisonous plants. A brush with poison ivy can quickly ruin an otherwise enjoyable hike.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation provides even more hiking safety tips.

Where to Go

Your sweat-wicking attire is ready to go, your shoes are properly broken in, your water and other supplies are packed, and you gave a heads-up on your planned whereabouts to your significant other/friend/roommate, etc. Now the fun part: choosing a trail. The following list covers a good portion of the state. Please don’t hesitate to leave a comment if I missed any decent trails.

Capital Area

  • John Boyd Thacher State Park: Come for the amazing views of the Hudson-Mohawk Valleys and Adirondack and Green mountains, and stay for the 25 miles of diverse trails.
  • Christman Sanctuary: Enjoy an easy two-mile roundtrip hike and some lovely waterfalls to boot.
  • Hopkins Memorial Forest Ridge Walk: Take in views of the Taconic range, Berkshires, and Green Mountains while traversing maple, birch, beech, and cherry forests.
  • Peebles Island Perimeter Trail: This two-mile trail takes hikers through open meadows, a forest, along cliff tops, and past river rapids. White-tail deer, beavers, skunks, hawks, owls, and water fowl are known to reside here.
  • Plotter Kill Preserve: Named after the Plotter Kill, a tributary of the Mohawk River, the preserve features a rugged gorge and three waterfalls ranging in height from 40 to 60 feet.
  • Albany Pine Bush Preserve: Visitors can enjoy nearly 18 miles of easy to moderate-intensity trails, and, if lucky, observe some of New York State’s 45 species of greatest conservation need.
  • Indian Kill Nature Preserve: The preserve is home to a variety of wildflower and fern species, as well as a hardwood forest, conifer plantations, and wetlands.
  • Cottage Park Trailhead – Moreau State Park: This 1.5-mile trail splits into two and continues up the ridge to the Eastern Ridge Trail. The trail to the south runs through two creek beds and the northern trail connects with the Western Ridge Trail, which offers views of the Green Mountains in Vermont. 

Hudson Valley

  • Hudson Highlands Nature Museum Discovery Center: Featuring ponds, wetlands, meadows, woods, and six miles of trails, this former dairy and horse farm offers something for everyone.
  • Sterling Forest State Park: This park is home to many resident and migratory species, including black bears, a variety of hawks, and songbirds. Hikers can take advantage of 32 marked trails.
  • Mohonk Preserve: New York’s largest not-for-profit, privately owned nature sanctuary, the Mohonk Preserve is ideal for beginners and experienced hikers alike.
  • Black Creek Preserve: With just two miles of hiking trails, this spot is perfect for those looking for a quick jaunt in the woods. Be sure to head down the Blue Trail, which leads to the Hudson River.
  • Minnewaska State Park Preserve: Without a doubt, the park’s main attractions are the two exceptionally clear, aquamarine “sky lakes” – Lake Minnewaska and Lake Awosting.
  • Catskills – Northeastern: While this region of the Catskills features several of the range’s highest peaks, the majority of the trails are under two miles. Of particular note is the Kaaterskill Falls trail, a steep but rewarding hike that leads visitors to the base of Kaaterskill Falls, the state’s highest waterfall.
  • Walkway Over the Hudson Historic State Park: After crossing the Hudson River via the 1.28-mile pedestrian/bike path (the longest elevated pedestrian bridge in the world), visitors can access 27 miles of rail trails and riverfront parks. 
  • Wappinger Greenway Trail: This trail takes hikers along Wappinger Creek and through the town of Wappinger, the village of Wappingers Falls, and the town of Poughkeepsie.

North Country

  • Copperas Pond: After completing the two-mile hike, visitors can enjoy three ponds – Copperas, Owen, and Winch.
  • Baker Mountain: A steep but scenic climb to the summit yields great views of the village of Saranac Lake and the High Peaks region.
  • Black Mountain: Take in a great view at the summit and then cool off at the Washington County Beach in Hullets Landing.
  • Buck Mountain: Right near the village of Lake George, this hike is ideal for beginners and offers a spectacular view of the high peaks. (Buck is near and dear to my heart, as it was my first official hike in the Adirondacks.)
  • Cascade Mountain: Thanks to a lower elevation, this is one of the easier high peaks to ascend and hikers will be rewarded with an amazing view.
  • Hadley Mountain: Only 3.2 miles roundtrip, hikers will enjoy a relatively quick and easy trek up, followed by views of the high peaks to the north, the Green Mountains and Berkshires to the east, and the Catskills to the south.
  • Roaring Brook Falls: For those looking to get in a quick hike before heading to Lake Placid, this is the spot. The trail is only about 1.2 miles and is among the more kid-friendly options in the area.

Central New York/Southern Tier

  • Mount Utsayantha: On the way up this tiny mountain, hikers will see a granite marker for the grave of Utsayantha, a local Native American maiden and the mountain’s namesake.
  • Finger Lakes Trail: Taking into account the branch, spur, and loop trails, the entire Finger Lakes Trail is about 958 miles. Nevertheless, it can still be enjoyed in small segments and is ideal for a day hike.
  • Chittenango Falls State Park: Without a doubt, the 167-foot waterfall is the main attraction. Visitors can also catch a glimpse of an array of plants and wildlife along the trails.
  • Trenton Falls Scenic Trails: Two trails feature scenic overlooks, wildlife, views of the hydroelectric operation and facilities, picnic areas, and historic points of interest.
  • Phillip A. Rayhill Memorial Recreational Trail: This four-mile paved trail links the towns of New Hartford and Whitestown in Oneida County.
  • Basswood Pond State Forest: Located near Cooperstown, Basswood features five miles of trails and is equipped with picnic tables and grills.
  • Gilbert Lake State Park: Situated in the foothills of the Catskills, the park offers more than 12 miles of interconnecting trails.
  • Whaupaunaucau State Forest: Hikers can explore the 13-mile cross-country ski trail that winds through forests and plantations and is home to deer, turkeys, and numerous song birds.

Hiking is a fun, accessible, and affordable way to stay fit and enjoy nature. I hope this post inspired you to give it a try. If you’ve had some interesting hiking adventures, I’d love to hear about them. Please share your stories in the comments below.


Photo by Loren Kerns / CC BY

Suzanne Huwe
About the Author

Suzanne is senior editor for the corporate communications department at CDPHP. Prior, she worked as a national campaign coordinator at the National Association of Broadcasters in Washington, DC, and as a copy editor and special sections editor at The Tampa Tribune. Suzanne earned a bachelor’s in economics from SUNY Fredonia and a master’s in multimedia journalism from American University. When she’s not fine-tuning others’ writing and her own, Suzanne enjoys running, traveling, scuba diving, and hanging out with her dogs and husband.

2 Responses to “A Beginner’s Guide to Hiking”

  1. Katherine Caradine/ Columbia Land Conservancy

    Hi there! I realize this blog is from 2015, but it was in an email we recently received. We at, CLC would love to see some of our public conservation areas listed as places to hike! Especially because CDPHP is one of the sponsors for our Hike Five Challenge! Feel free to email me if you have any questions.


    • Natalia Burkart

      Hi, Katherine! Thanks for the feedback. We’ll certainly make this addition in a future update of the blog.

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